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City at the End of Time Paperback – 8 Oct 2009

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 86 reviews
73 of 78 people found the following review helpful
Lacks structure and pace 1 Sept. 2008
By Nigel Seel - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I very much wanted to like this book. It's not easy to summon up a believable city one hundred trillion years from now. Greg Bear's multiverse is collapsing into terminal degeneracy as the Chaos intrudes upon the last city - the Kalpa - on a twisted surreal earth.

In present-day Seattle, characters Jack, Ginny and Daniel possess "sum runners", mysterious Feynmanesque stones which will eventually be found to code the innermost ordering principles of reality. But our heroes have lost all memory of their origins, and spend their lives flitting between alternative realities of the multiverse, in endless flight from ill-defined threats.

Ten to the fourteen years out, the male warrior Jebrassy and female explorer Tiadba are groomed to leave the Kalpa for a one-way journey through the Chaos to the mythical city of Nataraja - somehow this is the Kalpa's last and best hope. Jebrassy and Jack, and Tiadba and Ginny, are psychologically linked through the Terayears and will physically meet at the novel's climax, when the universe may, or may not, be cyclically renewed.

Bear has ransacked Greek, Hindu and Buddhist mythologies for this story, along with a light dusting of quantum mechanics. Typhon, the personification of Chaos, is the Greek Satan-like figure; Nataraja is the dancing posture of the Hindu God Shiva, lord of destruction/transformation; in Buddhism, a great kalpa is 1.28 trillion years long.

OK, so does it all work? I personally found it hard work. The book is dense with repetitious description of chaotic landscapes, which sap the reader's patience. For much of the time the main characters are engaging in relatively mundane activities or trying to get from one place to another in situations devoid of much tension.

All this could be forgiven - there are plenty of hard-to-read books out there - if there was some subtle and profound point Bear was trying to communicate. I really struggle though. At the end, when identities are resolved and the threads of events have been drawn together, what have we learned that is deeper then simply another drawn-out fantasy-SF-action thriller? I fear the answer is nothing.
57 of 64 people found the following review helpful
The End of Everything 25 Aug. 2008
By Patrick Shepherd - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In some ways, this book harks back to some works like Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker, dealing as it does with an incredibly vast sweep of time and across the bounds of the entire cosmos (and beyond). At the same time, embedded within it are some of the latest thoughts and theories about just what makes universe be what it is, from quantum entanglement, the many universes concept, to observer based determination of what the world is and will be.

It starts in the incredibly far future, and the described situation at this starting point is intriguing as we see what's left of humanity (or human-like beings) confined to a small area and fighting a losing battle with Chaos. This early section may be the best part of this book, as everything is weird and new, and hints at the history and genesis of the current situation are dropped into the descriptions of this very odd environ, making for an absorbing interaction between reader and words.

Interspersed with this far-future world is the second major thread of this novel, as we return to the world of today and follow three very unique individuals as they try to figure out just where they fit in the world, why they are being hunted (and by what), what they can do with their special abilities, and just what the connection is between these people and those of the far future.

Up to this point, all very good. But as we proceed deeper into this work, problems appear. First is the language used to describe the Chaos. In the hands of someone like Delany or Zelazny, this could have been a treat, but Bear's descriptions have two deadly faults: a lack of definition, a haziness, no scintillating concrete images that you can wrap your mind around; and constant use of the same words and language to describe this non-image - everything is dry, cracked, melted, crushed, twisted, crazed, dim, and dark. As this type of material occupies a large portion of the second half of the novel, it becomes a definite slog to continue reading these same non-descriptions of hazy somethings again and again.

The problem of lack of definition also applies to the major characters, as I found little to make these people stand out as living, breathing things, or why I should care about their ultimate fate. Part of this due to the fact that all of them are manipulated by various `higher powers' to fix the paths and decisions they will make, and the basic motivations of these higher powers are themselves not well delineated till very near the end of the book.

Then there is the final resolution of the two major threads of this work. I found it to be totally predictable both in terms of the decisions of the major characters and the ultimate conclusion of the entire story arc, not good for a work whose major premise deals with choice, unpredictability, and the infinite possibilities of all possible universe world-lines.

This work needed some severe pruning of most of the descriptive sections, and deeper, more fleshed out looks at the internals of its characters. As it is, I found it hard to finish this work, and was left with quite a feeling of disappointment.

---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A simple idea, a challenging read 18 Nov. 2008
By Kamila Z. Miller - Published on
Format: Hardcover
It took me a bit to warm up to this novel, as it does with any that switch point of view characters often. Also, similar to Jay Lake's "Trial of Flowers" I had a tough time trusting the author enough to become involved with the many unsympathetic characters. And yet, like the Jay Lake work, I was fascinated by them. Predatory, sometimes weak, they nonetheless all developed a (sometimes macabre) charm that made me care about what they would do next, and those characters surprised me at times. The descriptions were hazy, but I filled them in from my own imagination, sometimes based on my reading in physics. I was always delighted when something familiar, either in physics theory or from myth, presented itself. And therein lies the beauty of this work. I guess I've grown tired of having everything spelled out for me. I liked moving in realms that left enough to my imagination that I could be an active reader.

It did have some repetitive elements that detracted from the overall experience, but looking at it from a structural standpoint I'm not sure that the repetition was avoidable. I would have liked to have seen more variety nonetheless. I think, like the characters, at some points Mr. Bear grew fatigued with the immensity of the universe and the contortions he put it through. Also, much as I like some of the heroes in this work, the importance placed on these elements/sets of things seemed a little too transparently aimed at me as a marketing tool rather than making actual sense. But I was willing to buy into it so that I could discover the true nature of the Chaos, Typhon, etc. or at least get enough hints to develop my own satisfying ideas about those things.

Some of the grotesques and the dire nature of the approaching end of the universe made me wonder if there would be enough payoff to make it all worthwhile. For the first portion of the book I couldn't imagine a positive outcome that would also be satisfying. It turned out to be a strange end, quiet and almost as sparsely defined as much of the rest of the book, but it gave me huge freedom as far as my own imagination making a beast from the bones. Despite the fact that he didn't pull any of the typical and predictable tear-jerker tropes that make for emotional endings, I ended up on the edge of tears for reasons I don't want to state because they might be considered spoilers. But those reasons made the book for me.

A simple idea developed into a challenging read. Definitely not for everyone, but absolutely the book for me.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The End of Everything? 21 Dec. 2008
By Arthur W. Jordin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
City at the End of Time (2008) is a standalone SF novel. It is set in the present and at the end of time. And that end is much further than predicted. The city at the end of time exists more than a trillion years in the future.

In this novel, Jeremy (Jack) Rohmer is a busker currently living in Seattle. He juggles mice and hammers on street corners and rides his bicycle throughout the city. He dreams of Kalpa, a city at the end of time.

Virginia (Ginnie) Carol is eighteen years old. She is fleeing the people in a gray Mercedes. She also dreams of Kalpa.

Daniel Patrick Iremonk is a scholar of physics. Like Jack and Ginnie, he is a fate shifter -- capable of wrenching his mind between timelines -- but he does not dream of Kalpa. Always before, he has arrived in a new timeline within another version of his own self, but this time he resides in the body of someone else.

Conan Arthur Bidewell is a twelve hundred and fifty-three year old collector of written material. Lately he has been collecting books. Not popular books, but odd and erroneous editions of obscure manuscripts. He has been tracking the termination of time through the errors within the volumes.

Max Glaucous is a Chancer, able to change the fall of cards and dice. He is also a collector of dreamers for the Chalk Princess. Today, he is stalking Chandler -- another collector -- and his partner, who are working within Max's territory. Max intends to dispose of his competitors.

Jebrassy is a breed -- a protoplasmic entity -- living within Kalpa. His kind is relatively new, only a million years or so since their creation by the higher entities. Jebrassy is very curious and strongly aware of his own ignorance.

Tiadba is a glow -- a breed female -- who is determined to become a marcher. She takes Jebrassy to meet her fellow marchers. When they meet the leader of the group, Jebrassy is surprised to recognize her as a sama from whom he has asked questions.

In this story, Ginnie finds a place to stay in Seattle in a warehouse owned by Bidewell. The warehouse is stuffed with over three hundred thousand volumes. She does some of the physical labor of moving around the cartons and other such jobs. But Ginnie is also reading books selected by Bidewell to train her in his techniques.

Ginnie spends most of her time in the warehouse, for she has already had one brush with Chandler and his partner and knows they were lately in the neighborhood. But she does take one trip to the Busker Jam, where she sees Jack for the first time.

Jack has not had any brushes with the collectors. His biggest problem is getting people to remember him. If he didn't move around objects in the apartment, his room mate would advertise for a new roomer.

Both Jebrassy and Tiadba are occasionally possessed by the dreamers. Jack and Ginnie take over part or all their minds while dreaming. Ginnie has learned more about Tiadba than has Jack about Jebrassy, probably because she sometimes sits behind Tiadba's mind and observes.

Jebrassy and Tiadba are slated to march through the Chaos to find the lost city of Nataraja. Two persons had gone to the city in the far past and only they can save the Kalpa. Yet Jebrassy is taken by the Tall Ones and cannot leave with the others.

Max tracks down Jack, stuffs him in a bag, and takes him to meet the Chalk Princess. But fate intervenes. Penelope -- Max's partner -- is carried away by a freak tornado and the van is flipped. Jack gets away and flees to Bidewell's warehouse.

Daniel also has a close call. Other collectors surround him and force him into the rundown house where he has been staying. Only the appearance of Max enables him to escape the other collectors.

This tale involves the collapse of this timeline between its creation and its terminus. Both the past and the future close into the present. Elsewhen, Kalpa is being overrun by the Typhon Chaos.

This story invokes some exotic speculative physics to explain the plot. Of course, some of the background is sheer imagination. Apparently humans and their descendants -- and something called the Shen -- have greatly extended the universe, but Typhon Chaos is threatening to undo everything. Enjoy!

Highly recommended for Bear fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of speculative physics, human evolution, and a touch of romance.

-Arthur W. Jordin
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
not typical Bear, but still outstanding! 18 Dec. 2009
By Eric Barrows - Published on
Format: Paperback
Let me begin this by saying that this is *not* the typical hard sci-fi novel that Greg Bear is known for. So, if you are specifically looking for that, Bear has a whole host of other superb titles for you to choose from. (I suspect that most of the negative reviews resulted from that expectation.)

That being said, "City at the End of Time" is still an amazing and intricate work in its own right, and one I would certainly recommend to any fan of Neil Gaiman or H. P. Lovecraft. It is a novel that defies typical genre expectations, because it weaves together far-flung science fiction with a dream-like fantasy-scape and elements of near-supernatural horror and mythology. Also the novel is, to a degree, a homage to William Hope Hodgson's novel "The Night Land"(1912), and, like Lovecraft's "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath", the noble cat plays an important role in the tale -- two things to note that I think some of the other reviewers either completely missed or failed to appreciate.

Personally I thought the book was engaging and a excellent read -- I finished it over the course of two nights. I would certainly recommend that you give it a read and form your own opinion, but if you are a fan of any of the other authors I mentioned above you will probably enjoy the book as much as I did.

Greg Bear remains a unique talent in his ability to write excellent works outside of what is perhaps considered 'typical' for him (hard sci-fi) and "City at the End of Time" is no exception. (For those who are interested, Bear also wrote the extraordinary fantasy novel "Songs of Earth and Power", which is one of the best pieces of fantasy literature I have ever encountered.)
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